Whether you live on the North Oregon Coast or just visit from time to time, it’s easy to take the area’s natural beauty for granted. Surrounded as we are by pristine beaches, swaths of forest and mountain vistas, we often assume it has always been and will always be this way.
But without attention to conservation and action by passionate local advocates, forests and fields could be covered in housing developments, high rises and clear cuts.
As the North Coast Land Conservancy prepares to celebrate 30 years of conserving natural landscapes on the Oregon Coast, the nonprofit land trust knows its best works are yet to come.
For three decades, North Coast Land Conservancy’s focus has been on stewardship actions with a mission of conservation at its core. It’s a mission with multiple facets: land acquisition projects, facilitating habitat development, and participating in community outreach programs.
The goal of all of this has always been a fully functioning coastal landscape where people, plants and wildlife thrive.
From its grassroots beginnings, NCLC has evolved into an organization that is responsible for coastal property from Astoria to Lincoln City.
Jon Wicksersham, associate director of NCLC, says the organization now manages over 3,000 acres north to south, from the tip of the coast range into the ocean.
That includes the newly enhanced 365-acre Circle Creek Habitat Reserve property in Seaside and the recently acquired 340-acre Boneyard Ridge on Tillamook Head, which shares a mile-long border with Circle Creek.
With those projects coinciding with the 30-year anniversary of NCLC, the time seemed right to share the celebration.
NCLC is especially proud of the Boneyard Ridge property and with good reason; it is the culmination of nearly five years of work by staff and volunteers.
“We’re all very excited about this one,” Wickersham says. “The sweet spot is usually about three years or so to do a project, depending on complexity and the price tag.”
Not only was Boneyard Ridge one of the most time-consuming projects NCLC has tackled, it was also the most expensive, coming in at $1.3 million.
“As you can imagine, it took us awhile to figure out the right path forward,” Wickersham says.
The land was purchased from Greenwood Resources, and monetary support was garnered from more than 120 private donations and a $524,000 grant from the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, the funding agency for acquisitions and protection of watersheds in the state.
“There’s no way we could have done this without private donations or the help of Greenwood,” Wickersham says.
While the huge time and effort spent on the acquisition of Boneyard Ridge is more exception than rule, any project NCLC invests in has multiple moving parts.
Wickersham says that matching a project with NCLC’s priorities is key.
“One thing we really look at is connectivity and proximity to other conserved land,” he says.
The first step usually involves NCLC personnel getting out onto a potential acquisition and conducting an ecological assessment. From there, a conservation committee and the NCLC board of directors take a close look to ensure the organization’s mission is being met.
Wickersham says all of the normal stages of any property purchase are combed through, including appraisals, environmental assessments, drafting easements, and lots of title research.
“The whole process runs the gamut of anything you can imagine,” he says, adding that great detail is also given to potential granting partners.
While many of us might feel bogged down in frustration of such tedium, Wickersham says the payoff is worth the effort.
“We don’t get too frustrated, because the work is always rewarding,” he says.
Wickersham adds that his favorite part of the job is working with landowners and people who are passionate about land conservation and sharing the NCLC vision.
Plans for Boneyard Ridge are simple: Let it grow into a mature rain forest, something that is in rather short supply on the Oregon Coast.
With its proximity to Ecola State Park and the Elmer Feldenheimer State natural Area, Wickersham says Boneyard Ridge represents a large contiguous area that stretches from the coast to the Necanicum Estuary, all of which make NCLC extremely proud of this project.
“There’s something special about going out there the first time and realizing it’s always going to be here, always going to exist,” he says.
It is said that change is the only constant. From the NCLC point of view, that’s fantastic news, particularly when it comes to its growing staff.
“We got our second staff member about 10 years ago, Katie Voelke, our director,” Wickersham says. Grants were written to help fund staff positions, and, slowly but surely, what began as a small all-volunteer effort in 1986 evolved into a conservation role model that now enlists eight staff and the support of hundreds of volunteers.
Wickersham says the grassroots beginnings — which included meeting in people’s living rooms — have molded NCLC into what it is today.
“To be able to reach out into the community and keep the level of support we have has been monumental,” he says.
Volunteers are the lifeblood of any nonprofit, and NCLC is no exception. Wickersham says they have about 30 to 40 regular volunteers, as well as hundreds more they can call on for help with everything from budgetary help, to leading nature walks, to staging events.
“The core of the NCLC is the volunteers, and many of them have been here since the beginning,” he says. “Getting to work with so many dedicated people makes coming to work fun every day.”
When it comes to a project wishlist for the next 30 years, Wickersham says NCLC is always looking forward.
“We like to say we’re on a 500-year time line,” he says with a laugh, adding that they are constantly drafting and updating conservation plans with the future in mind.
With land at a premium and more and more people choosing the North Coast as a place to live or play, Wickersham sees NCLC stewardship as a vital piece of the conservation puzzle.
Having grown up in the area, he feels that people who come here are drawn to the natural beauty and the efforts to preserve it.
“People, plants and animals all thrive on the North Coast,” he says. “Everything has its place, and we want to continue to protect the special places here.”